Project Seeks to Attract & Enable More Underrepresented Students to Succeed in STEM Fields
In order to develop bold, new educational models that broaden participation in STEM programs and fields, the National Science Foundation (NSF) today announced the award of a five-year, $10 million NSF INCLUDES Alliance grant co-led by the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) and the Center for the Integration of Research, Teaching, and Learning (CIRTL), based at the University of Wisconsin – Madison.
The National Alliance for Inclusive and Diverse STEM Faculty (NAIDSF) will pursue three mutually reinforcing strategic goals all focused on faculty. The ultimate aim is attracting more underrepresented students—women, members of minority racial and ethnic groups, persons with disabilities, and those from low socioeconomic backgrounds—into STEM college programs, assist them to stay in these programs, and help them graduate and succeed in a modern STEM workforce.
Joining the lead institutions in the new alliance are Iowa State University; the University of California, Los Angeles; the University of Texas at El Paso; and the University of Georgia. These universities are partnering with dozens of other universities, two-year colleges and organizations across the country to scale practices aimed at diversifying the nation’s STEM college educators and grounding them in inclusive teaching practices.
NAIDSF is among the first five NSF INCLUDES Alliance awards to be made by the NSF.
The Alliance’s three goals are to:
“We are thrilled to be selected for the first cohort of NSF’s INCLUDES Alliances. This NSF program is a visionary gamechanger, building on the strong foundation of many earlier programs over many years of investment and hard work across hundreds of institutions. It is critical that we transform participation in STEM fields to engage the nation’s diverse talent” says APLU Executive Vice President Howard Gobstein who is co-director of the Alliance. “The collaborating institutions and dozens of national partners of our comprehensive alliance plan collectively to tackle these issues on institutional, regional, and national levels. We see very significant potential to broaden student success and contributions to the U.S. STEM enterprise.”
“Despite the importance of a more diverse faculty and the use of more inclusive practices by all faculty to learning and student success, improvement efforts have not been as successful as needed, particularly in STEM subjects”, says Alliance co-director Robert Mathieu, astronomy professor at the University of Wisconsin – Madison and the director of CIRTL. “For example, underrepresented minority faculty are a mere eight percent of associate and full professors in STEM fields at four-year institutions. Data show that when diverse faculty members teach underrepresented students, these students achieve at significantly higher rates, shrinking achievement gaps in those classes by 20 to 50 percent.”
Similarly, research attributes underrepresented undergraduate attrition from STEM to uneven quality of teaching, mentoring and advising. Non-inclusive classrooms, ineffective teaching, poor mentoring in undergraduate research experiences, and unprepared advising can prevent learners from succeeding in STEM courses and persisting in STEM majors. Mathieu emphasizes, “The challenge is not lack of research understanding about which inclusive practices yield greater and more equitable undergraduate learning and persistence. The challenge is enabling faculty to use these practices.”
The project’s overarching strategy is to bring about national systemic change for STEM faculty. by aligning and reinforcing professional development and hiring practices simultaneously at institutional, regional, and national levels. To foster institutional change, the alliance will assist institutions to self-assess and improve their underrepresented group hiring and retention practices; and the inclusive teaching practices of their entire faculty. Regional collaboratives of two-year colleges, four-year universities, local research universities and businesses will work together to develop and onboard skilled and diverse faculty in two-year colleges, where many underrepresented students begin higher education. The alliance will seek national change by partnering with disciplinary, underrepresented group-serving, and professional development organizations to align faculty disciplinary experiences with their institutional experiences deriving from the institutional and regional change initiatives.
This Alliance builds on earlier NSF INCLUDES pilot projects by APLU and CIRTL, awarded in 2016. APLU examined many of its member institutions’ and expert partner organizations’ institutional efforts and practices to recruit, hire, and retain diverse STEM faculty. The association also worked to identify and begin a series of transformative institutional activities aimed at increasing participation along the STEM pathways toward a doctorate. CIRTL focused on creating an alliance to prepare future STEM faculty to use teaching practices that increase the learning, persistence and degree completion of underrepresented students in STEM fields.